Why Bother?

A letter to a discouraged young writer

A broken pencil.
Photo: Eric/CC BY-ND

This week, a friend wrote to ask if I had any words of encouragement for a 14-year-old writer who had grown discouraged, convinced that writing would neither improve her life, nor this tormented and fraught world. Here is what I wrote to her, with a few edits.


XXXXXX asked me to send you a brief note of encouragement. I understand where you’re coming from. Writing can be incredibly demoralizing, in part because it is incredibly elevating. Working out your anxieties, hopes and fears on paper through the lives of imaginary people can be an absolute tonic, and when the world is all in chaos, that tonic can be balm indeed. But at the same time, writing can feel inconsequential, especially when you’re just starting out, because it is intangible, just a bunch of made-up rubbish that has no power on its own to materialize those aspirations or mitigate the things that give rise to fears.

Worse, when you start writing you will quickly discover that very few people even care that you’re doing it — the proud relatives in your life are glad you’re writing but not very interested in specific works, and the friends who are entertained by your work are only interested in consuming so much of it.

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